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Queens College to stage new musical

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During your subway ride, you'll perhaps meet an elderly denizen of Neptune Avenue, Brooklyn, forever happy to hash over the good ol' days. Or tourists blinded by their determination to see the sights. And those toy vendors who hurriedly ply their wares between stations.

These are just some of the slices of life all city dwellers will recognize in "Subway Suite," a new musical by Forest Hills composer Julie Mandel that is making its debut performance at Queens College on Dec. 2.

"Well, as a passenger of the 'F' train these many years, I've always found myself wondering about the lives of fellow commuters riding the train with me, dreaming up imaginary stories about them. I think lots of us do that," said Mandel, about her daily commute between Manhattan and her Forest HIlls home. "One day, finally, I got it into my head to compose a suite of songs around this theme."

In its first incarnation, Mandel's "Subway Suite" was composed expressly for chamber music and recorded by the Meridian String Quartet, a professional group of musicians in residence at Queens College. Since good news travels fast, Mandel's music then made its way over to Professor Susan Einhorn, head of the Queens College drama program.

"Julie's music is very interesting because it's a blend of the classical and contemporary, so while it was written as a suite of chamber music songs, you can also hear how she is influenced by musicals. It's a great mixture of sounds and styles."

Einhorn, recognizing "Subway Suite's" potential as a full-length musical, asked Mandel to develop the idea further, thematically connecting songs as well as writing new ones. Einhorn then solicited the assistance of Susan Matthews, founder of the Queens College dance program

"I was interested in introducing dance to the mix, in crossing lines between dancers acting and actors dancing. In crossing traditional lines of performance," said Einhorn, who relishes the freedom inherent in staging new material.

"Directing the classics are vital and they always remain a part of the Queens College drama program, but new material excites me just as much," said Einhorn. "It adds some extra pressure, of course, but it's very rewarding. In fact, I'd say that new material comprises most of what I do."

Einhorn, who has been a theater professor at Queens College for 18 years, is a veteran director who constantly crosses back and forth between working for an academic setting and working for New York's professional theater world. Along those lines, therefore, Einhorn likes college productions to feature students and professionals working side by side. For "Suite," music students from the college's Aaron Copland School of Music will play alongside the Meridian String Quartet. Additionally professional male dancers and actors have been hired to address the imbalance between the number of female and male student dancers.

      "The truth is that once I'm stepping in as director, I follow a professional model. I don't know how to direct in any other way," said Einhorn, "So when the students are onstage, they are sharing the stage with pros. You try to prepare them in class for this by teaching them foolproof methods for taking care of themselves. That's the whole idea. To make students into professional performers, to prepare them for what's expected."

      "Ideally, you push your students to do their best in a safe, nurturing environment," said Einhorn, "and they often realize that they've gone further than they thought they could go. In fact, students are often more exciting to direct. Professionals can become jaded whereas students are sometimes more willing to take risks and go to interesting places with the material.

"I think theater is the most collaborative art form," said composer Mandel, who said she herself is enjoying watching the show come together. "It is a blending of talents and it's working well.

"At times, of course, it's nervewracking, too," adds Mandel with a laugh.

Mandel, a composer of numerous published chamber music compositions, is busy at work on an opera based on the Henry James' novel, "Washington Square." Mandel, a winner of numerous ASCAP awards, has previously composed several musical scores, including: "2" a musical revue produced by Lincoln Center's Equity Library Theater .

"Subway Suite" will have a preview performance Dec. 2 at 8 p.m.

Other performances this weekend will be on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. The following weekend, performances will begin Friday, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. And will continue with an 8 p.m .Saturday evening performance and a 3 p.m. Sunday performance. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for seniors and students with I.D. The initial preview performance will feature a slightly lower ticket price.

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